Review of the album YELLOW SUBMARINE (1969), and the rules of our ABBEY ROAD Contest

Why our sudden interest in Beatles albums? Click on the above image for a complete explanation!

Yellow Submarine – Released Jan. 13, 1969

In contrast to the acclaim for the lovely animated cartoon of the same name, the soundtrack album for Yellow Submarine was greeted largely with indifference by many critics and Beatles fans (though reaching No. 3 on the record charts ain’t exactly chopped liver). This might have been due to The Beatles’ Capitol Records-like stunt of filling the first side of the album with Beatles tunes, followed by the movie’s instrumentals on Side 2 — and also by the album’s “recycling” of two previous hits to fill out the Beatle-laden side of the album. Heard in retrospect, though, the album is quite enjoyable on its own terms.

(Since this album is such a hybrid, I am going to review its selections a bit differently than before. As I noted, two of the songs come from previous albums, for which I will simply post a link to their previous reviews on this blog. And I am going to review Side 2 as a complete entity of its own.)

Yellow Submarine – (Previously reviewed as part of the album Revolver.)

Only a Northern Song – If you’re listening to this song, you may think George wrote this only to fulfill a contractual obligation, and you’re correct. The Beatles’ “new” musical contributions to the Yellow Submarine film soundtrack are generally regarded as “filler.” This one is no exception (it’s basically tossed-off in the film, too), though the song’s juicy organ line propels it along well enough to give it at least one listen.

All Together Now – The movie’s visuals dress up what is otherwise one of Paul’s weaker lyrical attempts, which is little more than a nursery-rhyme game. (However, it’s also disconcerting to see a G-rated cartoon sporting a song that asks, “Can I take my friend to bed?”) The song works better in retrospect than when you’re actually listening to it.

Hey Bulldog – Another free-associational song from John Lennon, who un-ironically sings “You can talk to me” in the middle of gibberish that makes it quite clear you’d better not have a conversation with him right then. It was originally deleted from the movie, and it’s not hard to see why.

It’s All Too Much – One of George Harrison’s most underrated Beatles songs –probably underrated even by George himself. The song’s glorious kick-off sounds like Harrison’s answer to Lennon’s famed guitar feedback on I Feel Fine; I still get a chill when I hear it. And the lyrics are as delightfully non sequitor as anything Lennon ever dreamed up (“Show me that I’m everywhere/And get me home for tea”). An unsung (so to speak) little gem.

All You Need Is Love – (Previously reviewed as part of the album Magical Mystery Tour.)

Instrumental music composed and conducted by George Martin: Pepperland, Sea of Time, Sea of Holes, Sea of Monsters, March of the Meanies, Pepperland Laid Waste, Yellow Submarine in Pepperland

As previously noted, many Beatles fans shouted “Rip-off!” when they discovered that the soundtrack album’s second side contained nothing but…music from the movie’s soundtrack! But as with any good soundtrack, the movie’s instrumentals hold up quite well on their own, and hearing just the first few bars of any of those selections is enough to draw up nostalgia-tinged memories of the movie. My favorite of all of the selections is March of the Meanies.

***

How would you like a shot at winning the two-CD 50th-anniversary edition of Abbey Road? If so, please read and follow our contest’s instructions as posted below.

1. Following are five (5) trivia questions related to the album Abbey Road. Read them, and write your answer to each question. (NOTE: Three of the questions are open-ended “multiple choice” and have more than one answer. You need provide only one answer for each of those questions; just be sure that your answer is one of the correct possibilities.)

2. Email your answers to:

socialmediaspecialist61@gmail.com

Please write “Abbey Road Contest” in the email’s “Subject” section, and be sure to include your name and the email address you wish to use for the contest.

3. The contest ends on Mon., Feb. 10, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time. At that time, I will choose three (3) contest winners based on the order in which the winning entries were sent. You must answer all 5 questions correctly in order to be considered for the contest. (There’s a little device called the Internet that should enable you to find the correct answers.)

4. Here are the prizes for the three winning entrants.

First prize: The two-CD 50th-anniversary edition of The Beatles’ album Abbey Road. (Please note that this is not the album’s deluxe edition that contains several extras, just the two CDs containing the original album and its outtakes.)

Second prize: The 2009 remastered edition of The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (Please note that this is not the 2017 50th-anniversary edition, just the earlier remastered version.)

Third prize: Steve Turner’s 1994 book The Beatles: A Hard Day’s Write – The Stories Behind Every Song. A fascinating read that provides the origin stories for all of the songs that The Beatles “officially” released on their 13 studio albums and the three Anthology collections.

Here are the 5 Abbey Road-related questions that you need to answer correctly.

1. What was the working title for Abbey Road, and what inspired that title? (There are 2 possible correct answers for the second part of this question; I will accept either or both of them.)

2. The cover of Abbey Road inspired the famous “Paul is dead” conspiracy theory. Name two (2) of the clues from the album’s cover which supposedly proved that Paul McCartney was dead. (There are several possible correct answers for this question; please don’t make one up.)

3. What did Frank Sinatra get wrong about George Harrison’s song Something?

4. What song did most of the four Beatles agree was the worst song on Abbey Road?

5. On the back cover photo of Abbey Road is a blurred image of a woman walking through the shot. Most sources indicate that the woman was a passer-by who had no idea she was in the shot. Apart from that, who was the woman believed to be? (Again, there are 2 possible correct answers for this question: I will accept either or both of them.)

Email your entry to us as soon as possible, and good luck!

A rich slice of film noir to start off #Noirvember

Over at Twitter, a Twitter member named Marya (@oldfilmsflicker) has designated November as the month of “Noirvember” in honor of the esteemed genre of film noir. I’m no noir expert, but I’ll try to sprinkle some fun noir stuff into this blog throughout the month.

For starters, film noir fans with sweet teeth (tooths?) will savor this 2007 gem.

A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN (1969) – Breezy “Peanuts” movie debut

I have enjoyed the “Peanuts” comic strip ever since I was a kid. But when it comes to the TV-special and movie adaptations, I feel they got talkier and less charming as they went along. (I remember taking my nephew to see Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and Don’t Come Back!) when it first came out in 1980 and being thoroughly unimpressed with it even back then.)

Happily, there is one movie that is just as good as my 8-year-old self remembered it to be — the first “Peanuts” theatrical film, A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Its soufflé-light plot is nevertheless substantial enough to make a “Peanuts” fan smile all throughout the movie, not to mention servicing a few fancy-shmancy animation sequences of the kind you rarely found in kids’ films after 1969.

(From here on in, this review is one big ol’ SPOILER ALERT. If you’re that concerned about it, watch the movie first before reading on. [As of this writing, the movie is available for viewing at Hulu.])

For those unfamiliar with the “Peanuts” milieu, the movie’s first half-hour is almost an origin story, showing us self-denigrating Charlie Brown from every possible angle — can’t fly a kite, can’t win a ball game, just plain can’t catch a break. Then Charlie hears about a spelling bee that is to take place at school that day, and despite several rounds of discouragement from his (mostly female) classmates, Charlie goes on to win the spelling bee at the classroom- and school-wide levels.

(As a former spelling bee champion myself, I regret to inform that for the sake of streamlining the plot, the movie’s makers left out the all-important state level of the bee, going straight to the national level instead.)

It is at this point, sadly, that the movie dumps its weakest plot point on us. As everyone sees Charlie off at the bus depot, Linus gives Charlie his security blanket as a gesture of friendship. Any “Peanuts” fan who knows anything about Linus knows that he goes through withdrawal after more than a day without the blanket.

Soon enough, blanket junkie Linus commandeers Snoopy’s help to go find Charlie Brown in New York City and demand his blanket back. The most unintentionally funny part of the movie is how little attention anyone other than Linus pays to finding the blanket. Charlie Brown forgot where he left it and is too preoccupied with the spelling bee to care. Snoopy happens across an empty Rockefeller Center at night and is far more interested in indulging his skating fantasy than in helping Linus detox.

Other than this minor aberration, though, the movie stays quite true to the charms of the original comic strip. This includes the songs by Rod McKuen, who at the time of the movie’s release was the troubadour of the 1970’s. Unfortunately, McKuen’s score, like his many books of poems, drew much criticism at the time for being overbaked. I think they perfectly fit the “Peanuts” style, and in any case, he wrote only three songs for the movie, so he’s pretty much off the soundtrack before he has much of a chance to offend. (For my money, I found the Sherman Bros.’ songs for this movie’s follow-up film, Snoopy, Come Home, to be far more repetitive and banal.)

It’s always nice to find that a story you remember from childhood still holds up. A Boy Named Charlie Brown is a charming example.

Popeye in YOU GOTTA BE A FOOTBALL HERO (1935) – Spinach-boom-ba!

The following is my entry in The 1st and 10 Blogathon, being co-hosted by Jonathan and Quiggy at, respectively, the blogs Dubism and The Midnite Drive-In. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to some of their favorite TV episodes and movies about football!

Popeye and Olive Oyl attend a football game where Bluto is the game’s star attraction. Bluto instantly wins Olive over (surprise!), to the point that she becomes an instant cheerleader and does an enthusiastic rendition of the title song. (Even if you don’t know the song by name, you’ll recognize it during the opening credits. It was written in 1933 and is one of the most performed football anthems ever.)

Popeye is so chagrined, he goes right out and signs up to play on the rival team (no time to bother performing for scouts!) — but Wimpy’s the coach and is busy nursing some hamburgers, so Popeye has his work cut out for him. (Great running gag: Wimpy keeps running out to an injured Popeye with a bucket of water, but Wimpy’s so distraught at the sight, he drinks the water himself.)

Mostly it’s football spot-gags, rather along the lines of the climactic football game in the Marx Brothers’ Horse Feathers (1932). As soon as Popeye manages a post-spinach rally, Olive does her quickest Bluto-to-Popeye transformation ever: “Er, I’m changing my mind…Go, Popeye!” Sheesh, college women!

My rating (out of 1 to 4 spinach cans):

Scream for Tom & Jerry

If you’re a fan of “classic” Tom & Jerry — the M-G-M cartoons directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, before they went to “limited animation” for TV — you’ll note that one of their recurring gags was Tom’s crazy scream whenever Jerry did some bodily harm to him.

Ever wonder how they got such a quirky and funny yelp from Tom? The answer is that Bill Hanna provided his finest scream for the movie’s soundtrack, and then the sound editors chopped off the beginning and end of the scream, so that its coming out of and going to nowhere would be funny instead of frightening.

Here is one of the introductions to CBS’ 1965 series of Tom & Jerry broadcasts. There are enough examples of The Hanna Scream here for you to appreciate them.

WHAT’S OPERA, DOC? (1957) – Chuck Jones’ melodramatic masterpiece

There’s every reason that What’s Opera, Doc? shouldn’t work at all, yet it works perfectly.

As anyone who knows their Looney Tunes knows, this cartoon takes the long-familiar motif of milquetoast Elmer Fudd hunting wily Bugs Bunny and places it in a melodramatic opera setting. Or as stated by the cartoon’s director, Chuck Jones, “We took the entire Ring of the Nibelungen music and crushed it down to six minutes.”

We usually expect a Looney Tune to be filled wall-to-wall with gut-busting laughs. What’s Opera, Doc? transcends expectations, for sure providing a sufficient amount of laughter (love that opening shot, where the foreboding shadow of a mighty warrior turns out to emanate from diminutive Elmer) but replacing a lot of the laughs with just plain awe.

First off, notice the deliberate staginess of the cartoon. Waterfalls stand still, and trees don’t sway from any breeze. It’s obvious that Jones wanted this to look like a staged opera; the only thing missing is a proscenium frame.

Once the setting is established, Jones takes familiar Bugs-and-Elmer motifs and stylizes them to the hilt. Normally, Bugs would be setting off one trickster scheme after another. Here, a single trick is drawn out to provide a big, glorious guffaw: Bugs dressed as the beautiful Valkyrie Brunhilde, riding in on a gargantuan horse.

From there, the audience’s footing is uprooted in the same manner that Alfred Hitchcock defied movie logic at the halfway point of Psycho (1960). We find ourselves laughing and feeling for cuckolded Elmer at the same time. And when Elmer summons his almighty revenge on Bugs, it holds a lot more power than that silly rifle he could never manage.

All of this builds to a climax that is so beautifully melodramatic, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. (Don’t worry — Bugs sways the final vote.)

This amazing cartoon was accomplished with trickery that would have made Bugs himself proud. Each Looney Tunes cartoon was usually manufactured within five weeks; this cartoon took seven weeks. To allay any front-office suspicions, Chuck Jones created a subsequent Road Runner cartoon that he finished off in only three weeks, and he had his entire crew doctor their time cards to balance out the two-week discrepancy.

An often-underrated member of Jones’ unit was his art director, Maurice Noble, who brought extra depth to Jones cartoons such as Duck Dodgers in the 24th-1/2 Century. Here, Jones let Noble have carte blanche on creating colors and shadows that added to the cartoon’s atmosphere. (Noble said in one interview, “They thought I was bats when I wanted to put all those purples on Elmer.”)

IMHO, What’s Opera, Doc? is the peak of what might be considered the Golden Age of Looney Tunes. There were still many wonderful cartoons to come (before the original group of Warners cartoon directors, known as the guys from “Termite Terrace,” were officially disbanded in 1963). But none of those subsequent cartoons were to be nearly as awe-inspiring, or as rich with possibilities.